M: how close as Deputy Secretary of the Defense Department were you to Presidential decision-making on Viet Nam?
V: I would say I was quite close to Presidential decision-making. I of course did not participate in all meetings I did participate in a number
M: When did it become apparent from the Defense Department's view that things were going to get much more serious in Viet Nam than they had been previously?
V: 1964 and 1965; really in late 1964 and early 1965. It was quite clear that the United States was faced with a major decision. The indications were that if the United States did not become more deeply involved even to the point of putting in ground forces that all of Viet Nam might be taken by what appeared to be a drive mounted by the North Vietnamese and NLF forces. So I think the really critical time came in the early 1965 period.
M: Before that the Tonkin retaliation had already occurred. You are listed as one of the first briefers of the President at the time of that affair. Why has it occasioned so much confusion and criticism?
V: Because the facts were fuzzy themselves at the outset. There are two Tonkin situations, and I think people tend to get the two confused
in the first Tonkin Gulf engagement that United States vessels were indeed attacked by North Vietnamese patrol craft, and that they were fired upon. This of course was reported to the President; and nothing, as I recall it, was done in the first, but when they were attacked the second time then it was felt that it was necessary to take retaliatory action and retaliatory action was taken.
M: You were one of the first to reach him, I take it, or among the early--
V: I don't remember.
M: Was his immediate inclination that we had to retaliate this time?
V: No. He never operated in a precipitous fashion. He was very careful; he wanted to know what all the facts were before acting, in my dealings with him. And he was not the kind of a person who would say, "Well, we've now got to react." His question would be, "Well, are you sure of your facts? What are the facts? Where are you getting the facts from? How do you evaluate them? How hard do you think they are?" Those kinds of questions.